As Democratic Party activists try to figure out the right path for 2020, many are being guided by, even haunted by, the legacy of 2016.

I’ve been interviewing political activists in the early primary and caucus states as part of my research project on how party insiders decide on the best direction for their party in the current political environment and settle on a nominee for the next presidential election. In some ways, those activists and party leaders are doing what they usually do — weighing the strengths of the candidates on the issues and trying to figure out who has the best shot of getting elected.

But what’s unusual is how these people, who in many cases have been volunteering and working in politics for decades, still talk about being traumatized by the 2016 presidential election and how it changed their understanding of politics. That disorientation is playing a central role in who they’ll choose for 2020.

The lingering effect is twofold. The bitterness of the Democratic primary contest between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders left party activists eager to tamp down divisiveness in this cycle and reluctant to make an early commitment.

One Iowa activist, who has been working on presidential campaigns since the 1980s, said fears of tearing the party apart continue to haunt her and her colleagues. “One of the most negative things out of 2015 and ’16 was the animosity between many of Hillary supporters and many Bernie supporters. People don’t want to pick too early because they don’t want to get sucked into the internecine conflict.”

The other trauma was Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump despite her consistent polling lead and her strong performances in the debates. The outcome undermined many activists’ long-standing beliefs about just what sorts of candidates are electable.

One Des Moines couple I spoke with have been active in Iowa caucus politics for two decades. For them, the interpretation of 2016 and what were seen as Clinton’s weaknesses have added to the difficulties in picking a favorite candidate this year. According to them, some activists who otherwise would be enthusiastic supporters of Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris or Amy Klobuchar are hesitant to commit because they believe that voters have a bias against female candidates. (The couple themselves don’t share these beliefs and claim to have had significant disagreements with friends over this.)

Those other political activists “have convinced themselves that a woman can’t win,” one of them said. “They can no longer say that an African American can’t win, because that happened. But they will say, ‘I just don’t think a woman can win.’”

She expanded on this rationale: “It’s an emotional thing. They’re so traumatized by 2016, and they’re so terrified of revisiting that night and having it all happen again. And I think they like to think that they’re just being practical and a little bit cynical and realistic.” Those fears are leading some activists to support Joe Biden, not because he’s their top preference, but because they think they’re playing it safe.

The trouble with drawing such a conclusion is that it could well be wrong and possibly lead to a misreading of the general electorate in 2020.

There are, of course, a lot of different lessons one can draw from the 2016 election — the Democratic message was flawed, Clinton was a poor candidate, she focused too much on “identity politics,” Russian interference tipped the election, etc. The election results were close enough that almost any of those factors could have made the difference. Who knows what might have shifted 80,000 voters across three states, putting a different person in the White House?

But the idea that women can’t win is not well supported by the research. Female candidates get as many votes as male candidates, as Jennifer Lawless and Danny Hayes found in their study of congressional campaigns, even if party leaders don’t necessarily believe that to be true.

A male Democratic candidate would probably have gotten as many votes as Clinton did in 2016. One of the best predictors of how an election will go is the strength of the economy, and given where the economy was in 2016, political science models expected the Democratic nominee to get about 51% of the two-party vote; Clinton slightly exceeded that. That is, she did better than we should have expected. We have little evidence someone else would have done even better.

One additional point of anxiety activists mention is the high cost of making the wrong choice. A longtime Democratic political consultant told me, “The overriding sense I get from people is that choice matters this time more than in previous caucuses because Trump has raised the stakes.”

Of course, a party making decisions for the next election by interpreting the last one is hardly new. Democrats nominated moderate Southerner Bill Clinton in 1992 in part because of a belief that they lost in the 1980s because they kept picking liberal Northerners. They nominated John F. Kerry, a decorated veteran, in 2004 in part because they were concerned that previous nominees had looked weak on national defense issues.

The Republican Party’s famous 2012 postmortem report talked about the kind of candidates they should be nominating in the future based on Mitt Romney’s poor performance among women, Latinos and other underrepresented groups (the party didn’t follow that path in 2016).

Learning from missteps in the last losing campaign can be useful. But looking too much in the rearview mirror risks ignoring what the electorate is looking for in the next election. That’s especially true given the current political crisis with the House moving forward on impeachment — a process that will dominate national politics regardless of the outcome in Congress. In this case, lessons from 2016 may well seem irrelevant come November 2020.

Seth Masket is a professor of political science and director of the Center on American Politics at the University of Denver.

Copyright 2019 Tribune Content Agency.

(42) comments

collinsm65

I worry more about the Russian agent in the oval office and all the rest of the GOP that do nothing to let him continue. Let's see...secret meetings with Putin multiple times, deals that give Putin big wins in Syria and Ukraine and the orange idiot blasting free press and wanting to break the law and encourage others to out a person who blew the whistle on him? That's just a fraction of his misdeeds.

olefool

I don't know a single democrat that worries or whispers the term 2016 for anything except the stolen election and the russian mole. However, that number sure seems to be itching rikki and others blow hole like an infected hemorrhoid. Maybe you should get busy helping the russian mole and his sycophants gathering all those subpoenaed documents that the SCOTUS will be ordering them to turn over to the legitimate investigators.......

DickD

And no mention of gerrymandering? That is what got Trump elected, along with the Electoral College.

shiftless88

I think what we learned from 2016 is that 40% of our voting population is not deterred by lying, misogyny and cluelessness.

rikkitikkitavvi

Shifty, who, and or what organizations or groups of people, is/are the "we" in your "what WE learned" part or your sentence? Please qualify by quantifying that word. Put yourself in a box by defining it. We'll go from there. Thanks in advance.

seanjames

anyone to the left of richard spencer

threecents

"We" is any human who has paid attention to Trump over the last 50 years.

phydeaux994

The “uneducated” Trump loves, the “Deplorables” that Hillary so accurately described. And that hasn’t changed much, no matter what increasingly vile, despicable things that Trump has done. The United States of America is the new Casper Milquetoast of the World as we cower at the feet of Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Satan, and now Recep Mayyip Erdogan. We should hide our face in shame.

des21

Oh for crying out loud! I know Trump is not a likeable character but why does every policy disagreement have to be the absolute end of the world for you lot? Hide our face in shame- maybe after Hiroshima yes- after removing a 1000 troops from a Syrian situation the vast majority of the country didn't want to be in in the first place? Get real- please!

Trump has been far, far tougher on Putin, Kim (MBS wasn't in power) than the previous administration folks, look it up! (And all of you who for some unfathomable reason champion Iran now, get a clue!)

des21

Saw HR McMaster on CSPAN talking about the Syrian situation and how it was unwinnable, worse than Iraq and getting out asap was the best move possible. I don't know if that's true and, you know me, as a neo-con, I usually like to use force if it's constructive, but I think maybe there was nothing constructive to be done here. And BTW, the idea that the Kurds are helpless is laughable. They have proven to be the best fighting force in the region over the past 15 years. You really want to go to war against a NATO member Phy? Really?

phydeaux994

Trump or America des. Trump will resign before his term is over. Pence too. Palosi will be President Palosi. You heard it here first. Back to the kiddies please.

rikkitikkitavvi

It's the way the radicals work DES. There may even be a book about it.

des21

I had hoped that he might resign before elction season began Phy but he didn't. Now I don't think he will, he enjoys the battle too much, and given the utter reprehensible nature of the collection of misfits running for the Democratic nomination (other than Klobuchar) I have no choice but to support him. And I will- strongly.

des21

Phy- do you really think that more than 20 Republican Senators are going to switch sides and vote to impeach? What on earth makes you think that? I know that to you, and i guess a majority of folks who comment here and bully there opponents into silence, Trump's impeachment is a foregone conclusion but you can distinguish that from reality right? He has over 95% approval rates among Republicans- I know, it's incredible and audacious to you but that doesn't make it untrue. Do you really think that over 20 GOP Senators are going to end their careers on your say so? to give us a Pelosi Presidency? I hope you can see how that is almost insane.

If it does get to the Senate (ig if) watch for Biden to be called as first witness thus ending his wrong-headed third attempt at the democratic nomination. heck, even Obama told him not to run![beam][thumbup]

des21

One last thing before classes start- 6 in 6 and a half hours- I know, I'm awesome- you are about the 10th person to fantasize about a Pelosi Presidency. apparently everyone wants to live with human feces in the street. go figure!

Dwasserba

"One additional point of anxiety activists mention is the high cost of making the wrong choice." Boy, I get *that*

seanjames

"Those fears are leading some activists to support Joe Biden, not because he’s their top preference, but because they think they’re playing it safe."



this is the worst possible "lesson" people could take from 2016. clinton *was* the "safe bet" and look what happened. hell, even in 2015 this was being used as a talking point in her favor. as it became clear that trump would win the nomination, you saw more and more people say "we can't afford to risk bernie losing to trump -- play it safe and nominate clinton." john kerry, as you point out, was a similar "safe bet" against bush and fared the same. that's just not a good strategy and hasn't been for at least 30 years. especially for democrats who are in no way ever going to win over trump's base. the way a democrat wins is by getting high turnout. low turnout means republicans win, high turnout means democrats win. period. it's why republicans have staked everything on voter suppression -- even they know they can't win if everyone votes. so you have to nominate someone who will actually energize people who may normally stay home to get to the polls. and rambling old joe biden aint it

gabrielshorn2013

Nominating a far left candidate guarantees a high Republican turnout also sj. Bernie Sanders may energize socialist-leaning portion of the Democrats, but his economics just don't work out. There aren't enough billionaires to pay for all the free stuff he proposes in his class warfare campaign. After his heart attack at his age, he has a higher chance of dying in office. He's done. Liz Warren seems to be taking up his torch for "free" stuff (same economic problems without solution as Sanders), but her use of Cherokee heritage as a springboard has bit her in the @$$ since it is so minimal. Now we see the "fired because I was a pregnant special needs teacher" story isn't true either. We have one liar in the WH, we don't need another. Biden is the Dem's best shot as of now.

DickD

This pains me, Gabe. I can find nothing wrong with what you say here. [beam]

gabrielshorn2013

You see Dick, there is common ground after all. [cool][thumbup]

seanjames

don't fall for this spin, please. other western nations manage to pay for these programs. anyone saying it's not possible here is being paid by the rich to do so or has fallen for their narrative. further, something like a green new deal would be *good* for the economy. people seem to think that when the government spends money that money just disappears into the ether rather than it being funneled right back into the economy and creating good jobs. not to mention how much more it will cost if we do nothing. and not just in terms of human suffering and death (since i know that doesn't even move the needle for a lot of people), but in terms of huge sums of money. think of it this way -- fixing a massive leak in your house may cost money, but simply ignoring it will cost a lot more down the road



there's nothing radical about universal healthcare or college. but the democrats have moved so far to the right in the last 40 years that their mainstream policies are indistinguishable from nixons. it's time to shift the overton window back

gabrielshorn2013

Sj, please show how the economics for socialist programs work out without significant tax increases, not only for the uber-rich, but also the middle class. You might want to subscribe to The Economist. Prices will continue to rise proportionally to the ability to pay. Econ 101. Are you proposing governmental price setting? College in other countries is highly selective, meaning not all that want to go get to go. Are you proposing that we adopt the same principles?

seanjames

yes, taxes will go up for the middle class. but health insurance premiums, deductibles, co-pays, etc will go away. people act like the only "real" cost of anything is in taxes. if i pay an additional $2000 in taxes per year, but get rid of $3000 in expenses, that is a net win for me. when people bring up the $31 trillion cost of medicare for all, what they always fail to mention is the estimated $32 trillion cost of keeping the current system over the same period. but people are by and large too stupid to grasp these concepts. and that's not an insult, it's just how our brains are wired. money we're already paying is considered already lost by our tiny brains so we don't consider it in the same way as theoretical money we could be spending. so we will balk at any proposed cost, even if the theoretical money is less than what we are already actually paying. same with college debt. we think only in the terms of actual dollars instead of the effect of those dollars in the economy. everyone talks about how millenials are killing this or that industry or aren't buying enough houses or whatever as if these are purely choices. we have an entire generation that's crippled in debt as soon as they start their careers/families in ways that previous generations never were. free up that money and it pours back into the economy. federal programs and tax rates that helped boomers become the most successful generation in the history of the world were then selfishly pulled out from under their own children. like, you act like the money just doesn't exist, but it does. a CEO in the 1960s made ~20 times more than the workers. a CEO now makes ~270 times more than the workers. the money is there, it's just being hoarded

gabrielshorn2013

A couple of things sj. Let's start with college costs. First, college was never "free" in this country. Private colleges have always charged tuition. Some state colleges were free for a while, and were fairly exclusive, and not everyone had the opportunity to go. When increases in the college populations happened, it was no longer financially feasible to do so. The GIs from "the Greatest Generation" did not go to college free. They risked their lives in the war effort when it was absolutely required (or face a war loss), and the GI Bill was partly enticement to risk their lives. Therefore, the GI bill (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G.I._Bill) was partial payment for services rendered. Many of the GIs never made it home to collect that debt owed. It is not even comparable to the "free college" that is being proposed. Fact is, college costs will go up with what the market will bear. The more grants and loans available, the more money available for tuition, the higher costs go. And round and round we go. There is no reason to take out student loans to go through college, if you are willing to do what is necessary to do so. Who says you need to graduate in four years? Students can work full-time and go to school part time (BTW, that's how a lot of GIs did it too). Yes it takes longer, but who cares? Many employers have Tuition Assistance Programs that will reimburse an employee for all classes with a C or better. Could the students now hammered with tuition loans not have gone into debt by not having student loans? In my own experience, that's what I had to do since my depression era parents couldn't afford to send me or my siblings to college. We had skin in the game and needed to succeed or fail. That's a strong incentive. Now, how do you propose, to pay for "free" college unless you control the costs the colleges charge? Just raising taxes? Where is the sweat-equity? Will you cap costs through government fiat?

As for (big) corporate CEO pay (citation please?), even if you took all of their earnings, it wouldn't be much of a dent if spread out amongst workers in the US. So, how is that "hoarding it". CEOs do not set their own salaries. The "evil CEO pay" is determined by the Board of Directors, who are in turn elected by the shareholders, which in most cases, is you and me if you own stocks. If you are such a shareholder, it is your right to put forth a proposal to limit CEO (and other executive) compensation at the next shareholders meeting. BTW, you do know that any company that is an Inc., no matter the size, or wealth, has a CEO. Who is this population of CEOs are you referring to?

Finally, taxes. You say that higher taxes will increase the amount in our pockets since the government will provide, and all other costs will go away? When has that ever happened in this country? You're talking healthcare? If so, then are you proposing that the government take over hospitals to mandate maximum costs? You can mandate what you will pay, as in medicare, but that doesn't mean the doctors or hospitals will accept it. It is a fact that doctors limit the number of medicare patients they take in their practices. Doctors and hospitals can also bill the patient for expenses not covered by their insurance. Again, are you going to tell a doctor how much they can charge? Is your income limited by the government, or do you maximize your income by moving to an employer that will pay you what you think you are worth? In the long run, what you are proposing is a switch from a capitalist to a socialist society in order to make your proposals work. Good luck with that.

gabrielshorn2013

BTW sj, I note that you still did not answer my specific questions from Oct 14, 2019 6:50pm.

seanjames

"Many employers have Tuition Assistance Programs that will reimburse an employee for all classes with a C or better." -- lol sure, for post graduate degrees when you've already gotten your bachelors. otherwise you don't have a job like that in the first place. (also more and more corporations are turning to only hiring "contractors" that they don't have to give federally mandated benefits to



i also notice you skipped from like the 50s to now while ignoring the period from the early 70s to 90s where sallie mae was federally run, before being privatized. costs have skyrocketed, so comparing someone paying their way through college in 1975 to now is literally a joke. even at $15/hour (which people like you don't think anyone without a degree "deserves") you're making 31k/year before taxes and ~26k take-home. average tuition for an in-state, public university is $11,260/year. so now you're down to 15k/year to cover all rent, food, books, transportation, etc etc. it's pretty much not doable. and again, that's a $15/hour job, which most of these kids probably won't be paid! once again, boomers like yourself had massive advantages that you didn't even recognize, and then allowed them to be stolen out from under your own children by rich grifters who wanted mini-yachts that spring out of their main yacht, and now you'll fight tooth and nail on your way out the door to prevent them from making it for themselves and their own children.

rikkitikkitavvi

Report



seanjames Oct 15, 2019 4:14pm



economically, the squad supports what were essentially mainstream democratic policies from 50 years ago. the overton window has moved so far to the right that this seems radically left now, while literal nazis are a hair's breadth away from the current republican president





gabrialshorn2013 & seanjames, I certainly hate to interrupt such a lively debate but I read the "Overton Window" and you Mr. James have it backwards. The "Overton Window" you speak of has shifted to the radical left. You must realize that people, other than the left have opinions. If you can't accept the fact that you will not change peoples minds then, Tough on ya. Donald J. Trump, The current President is in the process of shifting the "Overton Window" back into the position it should be. The powers That Be hate this. That's how we got three years of meaningless investigations paid for by the taxpayers. Congratulations! Remember Mr. James that everything you accuse the Right of being, YOU are.

gabrielshorn2013

Sj says, “lol sure, for post graduate degrees when you've already gotten your bachelors. otherwise you don't have a job like that in the first place”

No, most companies have tuition reimbursement for undergrad degrees too. Why the defeatist attitude? Call several companies and ask them if they offer tuition assistance. Since the economy is so strong, companies are competing for employees, those few that didn’t have them now do. I’m hearing a lot of whining here that “it’s too hard”. If you want to go to college and don’t have the money, you have to set priorities and make choices. I worked in a low wage grocery store job during the day to pay the rent, groceries, gas and insurance for my POS car. I also went to school at night to pursue my AA degree, then found a higher paying job that reimbursed my tuition for my BA. I never looked back, and continued through grad school for additional professional degrees. We all have responsibilities. Nobody said that those that don’t have a degree don’t deserve to make money, certainly not me. However, you should be paid for what your labor is worth to a company. You cannot be paid more. The prices they can charge for their goods/services to are only so elastic. If you are low-skilled, there is a glut of those, thus driving down their wages. Want more money? Do whatever it takes to get an education or a marketable skill, and move up. Machinists, plumbers, electricians, and other tradesmen don’t usually have a college education (with some exceptions), yet make very good money. A counterperson at Burger King will never make what a plumber does because a plumber is in demand, while low skilled fast food workers are losing their jobs to automation or robotics because automation is predicted to be cheaper than humans if labor rates get too high for that work. They don’t get sick, or days off, and can work 24/7 without a break. They will need a skilled automation tech to service them however.

Costs for housing have nothing to do with the semi-privatization of Sallie or Fredie. Mortgage rates at are historic lows, look it up. High prices for housing is due to demand and supply. As demand for housing goes up, with concomitant increase in supply, the price for housing (including rentals) will go up. Econ 101, and hardly a new or difficult principle to understand. It really sounds like you expect the government to fix all that ails us, and should provide what we desire. No, they should not.

seanjames

you keep talking about "econ 101" and then you turn around and confuse sallie mae (the student loan company) with housing prices. i don't have time to waste with the tired old bootstraps garbage. if you can see how more and more of the wealth is funneling to fewer and fewer people and you honestly believe this is simply due to people not working hard enough or whatever, you're not a very bright person. end of story

gabrielshorn2013

Um, no. You’ll notice that I said Freddie, as in Freddie Mac. Freddy is for mortgages. Sallie is for student loans (which I did mention, but cut straight to housing costs), which were subsidized by the government (a.k.a. the taxpayer). Student loans were some of the riskiest to make because there was no collateral to collect if you defaulted. And student loan default was a big problem. Get your loans, go to school and graduate, then declare bankruptcy, debt gone, taxpayer screwed. Look it up. Hence the higher costs. If you want to go to a private institution rather that a Community College then a State School, and incur that high debt, that’s on you. Poor, poor, pitiful you. I show you that it in fact can be done, and you dismiss it. There are lots of people that figure out ways to go to school without incurring debt. Talk about not very bright. Nowhere did I say that people are not working hard enough. They are, but low-skilled jobs are going away whether you like it or not. If you’re low-skilled, you owe it to yourself and those that depend on you to have a plan and get training. You have options. If you don’t plan for the future, it will be your own fault when it runs you over. BTW, the name-calling shows you lost. End of story. Quit whining.

threecents

I wanted Bernie in 2016, but I voted for Hillary in the MD Primary because I thought there would be a bigger Republican turnout against the far left Bernie than the much less left Hillary. Impossible to know if Bernie would have won. Republicans kinda had a similar thing when their establishment candidates - McCain and Romney - lost and they went with their outside of the box candidate, Trump. Not sure if our outside of the box candidate would energize Trump's base, Some of them just want anyone who will shake up the system. Not sure, but Warren might be the way to go.

phydeaux994

I hate to brag gab, but I knew that even before Biden officially declared. As I said yesterday though, the Republican “House Freedom Caucus” a lot farther “Right” than the House Democratic “squad” is far “Left”. Peace.

gabrielshorn2013

Whatever you say phy. Since you are so far to the left, the distance between you and "the squad" is a lot closer than the distance between you and the "House Freedom Caucus". Therefore, the squad seems more reasonable. A political application of the theory of relativity. Heddwch fyddo gyda chwi.

seanjames

economically, the squad supports what were essentially mainstream democratic policies from 50 years ago. the overton window has moved so far to the right that this seems radically left now, while literal nazis are a hair's breadth away from the current republican president

phydeaux994

gab, I am a Biden, Palosi, Schumer pre-1994 Newt moderate Republican who has hoped that Mark Warner would relent and run for President in 2020. Never liked Bernie, don’t like Warren, want to keep ObamaCare and improve it. I want to re-establish relationships with our true friends and allies in the free World and send Russia and NK back into oblivion where they were before Trump re-empowered them. Punish, not reward Saudi Arabia for murdering an American citizen. And last but far from least, return the Constitution and the Rule of Law and our dysfunctional Government to their proper place. Walla Walla Bing Bang gab.

rikkitikkitavvi

Bless your little heart phydo.

phydeaux994

💕

gabrielshorn2013

You're funny phy. [beam] Heddwch fyddo gyda chwi is "may peace be with you" in Welsh.

gabrielshorn2013

Sj, you're funny too. [beam] Citation please? What "the squad" supports has never been a part of the Democrats platform.

gabrielshorn2013

Phy Oct 15, 2019 7:31pm. Sounds good phy. If we drew a Venn diagram you would see a big intersection of declared positions. Not a Republican or Democrat myself.

rikkitikkitavvi

The title is a BINGO! I did not have to read further.

phydeaux994

or were unable to read further. 🤣 just kiddin’ rikkitikkitavvi. 👍

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Engage ideas. This forum is for the exchange of ideas, insights and experiences, not personal attacks. Ad hominem criticisms are not allowed. Focus on ideas instead.
TURN OFF CAPS LOCK.
Don't threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
No trolls. Off-topic comments and comments that bait others are not allowed.
No spamming. This is not the place to sell miracle cures.
Say it once. No repeat or repetitive posts, please.
Help us. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.